Be Careful When Using Sunscreen At The Beach

Be Careful When Using Sunscreen At The Beach
Indiscriminate use of sunscreen can harm ocean corals.

Sunscreen is largely divided into organic sunscreen (i.e., chemical sunscreen) and inorganic sunscreen (i.e., physical sunscreen).

Organic sunscreen is a product using chemical ingredients, which are absorbed into the skin and interact with ultraviolet rays to dissolve them. Inorganic sunscreen is a physical sunblock, which covers the skin with a thin protective film to reflect and disperse ultraviolet rays.

Between them, organic sunscreens contain chemicals that harm coral reefs. Hazardous chemicals include oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are harmless to humans when properly mixed but are fatal to coral reefs. When a beach-goer applies organic sunscreen and enters the ocean, the sunscreen dissolves in seawater and becomes harmful to corals. Corals that have been affected by organic sunscreen turn white, weaken, and die.

As such, measures to regulate the use of sunscreens, which are already causing great harm to the marine ecosystem of corals, are gradually being implemented in various parts of the world. In some UNESCO World Heritage sites, the use of sunscreen of any kind is prohibited. Countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines completely ban tourists from entering ocean waters with coral reefs, which they regard as important national assets. In the United States, the general recommendation is that only sunscreens containing titanium dioxide are used. In the state of Hawaii in particular, the law prohibits the use, sale, and distribution of sunscreens that contain chemicals that adversely affect coral reefs. The estimate is that sunscreens banned in Hawaii account for about 70% of sunscreen products on the market.

When choosing a sunscreen to use at the beach, it is best to check its ingredients first, but if that is too cumbersome, going with an inorganic sunscreen is a safe choice.

Also, it's important to choose products that are non-nano, i.e., made of particles bigger than 100 nanometers. At a size of one-ten thousandth the thickness of a human hair, nanoparticles are so small that they can be absorbed by corals.